It was hard not to feel out of place, hard not to take short, sharp, shallow breaths because you knew you reeked, truly godawful in ways that had nothing to do with the hogs or the chickens or the mountains of manure you tended and turned and composted.
It was hard not to feel the fibers opening cross-wise, strained to breaking point because you grew and grew and grew and there was never the money or the time and you tended the manure, the fucking manure pile, day in and day out, so why bother with fresh and new and special?
The day came before the light.
The night ended before the dark descended.
It was like being strung between hell and more hell. And hard was hard, because it was the right way. The Christian way. And the path was simple and straightforward and lit with candles that extinguished with each pass.
Because that path wasn’t his path, not the path of righteousness, not the path of belonging, not the path of worthy or even marginal…
Alex spanned the cubbyhole, too broad shouldered to disappear from view, carrying his mass high up, weighted with work, hard, unrelenting, exhausting work. He hated it didn’t matter, not a wit, not one iota, he was and always had been invisible, lost to a system that extended pity through indentured servitude, rewarding the hosts with expressions of admiration.
Sometimes they’d give him a lingering look, assessing him, knowing his roots, the corruption and the addictions and being trash tossed aside. He’d been saved and detoxed and menialized until no one saw him, just his backstory, his misfortune, because everybody in that godforsaken hamlet on flatpan with nothing but corn and wheat and silos extending forever, for as far as the mind could weep with the agony of a horizon so pure it burnt the eyesockets and armour pierced the skull with the favor of an almighty who tithed through fickle reward and punishment.
This night, this time and place, the music and the slow rhythm of not belonging ached in ways that sinned.
His keepers were looking to loose him without freeing the chains. It cycled back to the hard and the need for him to keep doing and undoing and redoing, payback for the meals and the single in the loft, high up, third floor, brutal and airless and stinking with his sweat and the frantic strokes that freed him for an instant. Freed his body, letting it soar, forget forget forget…
He could have run, should have run, back when he still had reasons and ambition, as skewed as they were. The keepers only knew about the track marks and the steam vents and him handing off to the well-groomed in suits and designer boots, packets of relief in return for a percentage of the take.
What they didn’t know was what he’d done on the side… What he’d craved. Who he was.
“He’s not very thrifty.”
“He’ll come along, Marty. Feed him up, he’ll do you. You need the help…”
“Why don’t he talk?”
“Would you, after what he’s seen?”
When the tremors finally eased, they’d sweated the rest. Cleaned him up, pimped him out with blunt instruments of destruction, shaving pieces of him away, bit-by-bit. At fifteen, he’d been ignorant, illiterate, and too canny to knock three square even when they took their pound of flesh in return.
Sometimes he missed the swagger. The canyons and the buckled concrete and the highs, even the lows—crashing and bleeding and swearing and gutting with blade and brick and whatever bit of trash came to hand, taking as good as he got.
The pinafore took a swing past. To his surprise there was eye contact, and though brief, it was a ray of despair. Invisibility was what got him by. Now he’d been singled out, they all knew why, a lottery with his seed up for the highest bidder.
He’d sworn and screamed and taken a swing at his keeper, but the man was big and brawny and had the right hand of God on his side, and a trailer freed up and ready for a mating to produce more indentured servants.
“This ain’t up for negotiation, boy.”
“Be glad you have a home, Alex.” She rarely called him by name, mostly just boy or hey you or truant or sinner or worse…
Miserable, he stared at the scarred pine floor and let the movement and the music and the giggles and clack of boot heels in lockstep fade into the background.
He knew hard, he was on intimate terms, wearing it like his own skin. But this … this … this was a whole other level of trial and tribulation.
His cock squirmed.
Loose-jointed, he moved odd, like he’d just dismounted, jeans riding low on narrow hips, licking lips, thumbs—goddamn thumbs outlining and teasing and it looked, from across the room, strong and thick and Alex wished he was blind and had never seen the stranger in the church basement with the two-steppers and fancy skirts in swirling color when all he wanted, all he craved was there.
Out of reach.